Sometimes a car acts as a ‘time check’. I can hardly believe that three-and-a-half years have elapsed since BMW rolled out their then-new 7-series. It was hailed as a breakthrough in technological excellence and refinement for those who like to drive, or be driven in, a large luxury saloon.
Even though it is only a relatively short time, it now feels like we inhabited a different world.
SUVs were emerging in force, numbers and variety, but were not the rampaging all-consuming rage they are now.
Back then too there was more talk than tangible action on the electric-car front.
Now, it is fair to say we are witnessing change unprecedented in many of our lifetimes on so many fronts.
And, it is fair to say, that cars such as the 7-series, are being threatened by the proliferation of large SUVs (how about BMW’s imminent X7 SAV for starters?), not to mention the antipathy towards diesel engines.
So is there a future for large saloons such as the 7-series?
Against that backdrop of question and doubt, we took to the road in the new 7-series 750Li (long wheelbase).
It is customary for a marque to go back to the drawing board to freshen up and include advances.
But this time around for BMW the challenge was magnified as regulatory authorities kept moving and changing the goalposts.
That’s why this mid-life overhaul is significant and substantial in the breadth of tweaking and updating necessary with the advent, for example, of new WLTP emission testing parameters.
As ever, there are seen and unseen changes.
Most definitely ‘seen’ is the much larger grille. This is big and bold; to accommodate it they had to raise the bonnet by a significant 5cm.
At last, BMW are starting to do proper grilles (the X7’s is massive).
The car looks blockier from the front but less so from the side. There are no changes to overall length. The rear gets slimmer lights and more pronounced tailpipes.
The boot is quite small: 515 litres; tighter still (420) for the PHEV version.
Inside there are touchscreens for rear passengers now, the wireless charging slot has been shifted in front of the cupholders and there is the Personal Assistant voice control.
Not seen but felt from the 4.4 V8 750Li was a 4.1 second sprint to 100hmh (4 secs in SWB). That’s partly thanks to an 82bhp increase. It’s the same engine but they carried out loads of work. There are no significant increases in emissions.
There is air suspension on both axles but the rear wasn’t so good over sharper ramps on our drives despite the suspension/damping being tweaked.
But what a quiet, sweet engine (thicker windows and acoustic screen helped) even if the kick down from the auto transmission was delayed a fraction longer than I’d have liked.
With all-wheel drive there was great assuredness of grip over drives on twisty, mountain narrow roads.
The plug-in hybrid version, eerily quiet, now has a 6-cyl engine and develops 394bhp in total. They claim 58km on EV charge alone, thanks to a denser battery. Can’t see it in real-world driving to be honest, but it was interesting that the hybrid was in M Sport trim to show it can be fun too.
The diesels (730d, 740d, 50d) are basically the same but meet latest regulations – many of which prompted so much of the chopping and changing.
They’ve done an especially big job on the interior: materials, leather stitching etc.
The operating system has been upgraded too – you will be able to update it in the future over the air just like a mobile phone.
The ‘new’ 7-series arrives in Ireland next month. There will be short and long wheelbase versions; two-wheel and all-wheel drive models.
Standard will be Nappa leather, 18in alloys, sport auto transmission, air suspension; new adaptive LED headlights, high-beam assistant, and new soft-close doors/acoustic insulated windscreen.
Electric seats, front heated, fineline wood, 4-zone air con, ceramic controls finish are also on the menu.
There is a new Parking Assistant Plus (with surround view) along with DAB digital radio, a new Harman/Kardon loudspeaker system and wireless charging.
Also new are the Live Cockpit Pro and the gesture control (a waste of time).
So, is there a future for large saloons? Sit into this and drive it the way, and length of time, we did and you’d have to say there is surely.
For such a large car it was exceptionally taut and tight though far more suited to long-distance motorway driving than the circuitous routes we took.
It is also a car to be driven in – I spent some time luxuriating in the long wheelbase rear with its copious leg room.
The lower centre of gravity alone makes it an immeasurably better driver than an SUV while the basic chassis is one of the better, flexible lynchpins for a sportier drive.
I thoroughly enjoyed it for its large-car luxury and ‘smaller-car’ driveability and hope the day is far off when ‘driving’ is confined to the realms of functionality.
* Meanwhile, BMW’s revised run of PHEV powertrains continues: for the 3-series (EV range up 50pc), 2 series (now 57km EV-range), 5 series (80km on EV); X5 (80km) with the X3 PHEV expected in December.
The iX3 SAV arrives next year, making the X3 the only model with three powertrain variants: internal combustion, hybrid and electric.
The plan is to have one electrified car in each model segment.
Yes, a lot has happened in three-and-a-half years alright.
I wonder what the next three-and-a-half will bring?